WEST SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - It's a story that Western Mass News has been continuing to follow.

Animal rights activists have been protesting certain animal exhibits at the Big E for years now, and, in light of posts last year that went viral, the Big E is making changes this year.

Protesters gather at Gate 4 every year to protest wild animals at the Big E.

"It’s horrendous what those poor animals must endure," Sheryl Becker, Director of the Western Mass Animal Rights Advocates, tells us.

Last year at the fair, a photo of Minnie the elephant went viral, followed by a video of a camel being pulled by a trainer that people across social media found upsetting.

"It was an awakening. Sort of an epiphany. Everyone realized, ‘Wow this is what’s happening? This is crazy. This is horrible’," stated Becker.

But this year, Big E organizers tell Western Mass News there will be no elephant rides.

Becker says instead, there will be an elephant at the fair participating in photo-ops in, what she was told, an “educational exhibit”.

"It’s not just cruel, it’s needless and not at all educational as they claim," explained Becker.

Ryan Henning, care specialist at Camel Kingdom, says their camels are part of an educational exhibit and circus performance.

"We’re excited to showcase these beautiful camels and educate the public, and boast about our animal care, how they’re trained and cared for," says Henning.

And he says their camels are like family members and receive the best care.

"Our camels are living longer healthier and happier lives in our care," noted Henning.

R.W. Commerford and Sons Petting Zoo, owners of Minnie the elephant from last year, will also be there again.

They wouldn't confirm whether Minnie the elephant would return, just that there would be no elephant rides this year.

Becker says her goal is to educate people and encourage people to speak out.

She says the Big E is making progress by removing elephant rides, but believes there is still a ways to go.

"They are gradually making progress. I’m hoping they continue making progress. I’m hoping they continue listening to the complaints," added Becker.

Even though there will be no elephant rides at the Big E this year, we have learned there will still be vendors offering pony and camel rides.

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